Manchester United, David Moyes, and the folly of the defensive full-back 0

Will Quinn returns to lament Chris Smalling’s inclusion in the Manchester United side on Tuesday night…


David Moyes had a right to bemoan his side’s poor finishing against Sociedad on Tuesday night, after his usually lethal strikers contrived to miss two open nets and a penalty in a 0-0 draw. However, he did make one clear selection mistake that seriously damaged his side’s attacking abilities: the choice of Chris Smalling at right-back.

Moyes had options: he could have played Antonio Valencia at right-back and brought in Januzaj or Zaha, or he could have picked Fabio. But because he went with Smalling, Sociedad could shut down United’s attack for the whole first half simply by marking every player except him. Time and again Smalling was left in acres of space on the right wing, only to throw in a hopeful cross or run out of ideas and pass it backwards.

This isn’t meant as a criticism of Smalling, who has the potential to one day be an excellent centre-back. Rather, it shows the danger of picking a predominantly defensive player at full-back in a game you expect to dominate. Smalling may have been more useful if United were to come under sustained pressure, but that was never a likely scenario against such inexperienced opponents. The fact that Moyes’s overall gameplan was so proactive suggests that he was fully aware of this.

This isn’t the first time Moyes has made this mistake, with the Smalling-Valencia combination cut to pieces in the Manchester derby by the extremely defensively-reluctant duo of Kolarov and Nasri. In fairness, it’s only a problem because of Rafael’s injury issues, but faced with a choice between an overly attacking full-back and an overly defensive one, Moyes has always started with the latter. As an inherently conservative coach, he perhaps sees filling the hole with a centre-back as a ‘safe’ option. But if he is going to play an expansive game, as he did on Tuesday night, then it doesn’t follow to select a full-back with such severe attacking limitations.

Follow Will Quinn on Twitter here.

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